Cybercriminals are continuing to profit on the frenzy and concern produced by COVID-19, both in the physical sphere and in the digital ecosystem, by taking advantage of the large global unmet demand for vaccines.
My firm has been monitoring the surface, deep, and dark web for malicious activity related to COVID-19 for the past year, and we’ve noticed a pattern of digital manipulation for commercial gain or other nefarious purposes associated with vaccines.
The World Health Organization (WHO) identified vaccine hesitancy (the unwillingness or refusal to vaccinate) as one of the top 10 threats to global health in 2019, even before the pandemic began. Of course, this threat has only grown in the last year.
We’ve examined billions of records that have been compromised or exposed—including a look into deep and hidden marketplaces for criminal activities and actors benefitting from vaccines—and will write more about our findings in a future study, but in the meanwhile, here are two major takeaways: inoculation hesitancy related to misinformation and disinformation narratives, and illicit vaccine activity on the dark web.
Narratives of misinformation and disinformation
Since February 2020, we’ve been conducting continuous, comprehensive analysis of the digital public sphere for English-language conversations related to COVID-19 and vaccines across global geographies—including social media, news, forums, blogs, and other public digital communities—parsing through more than 100 million results, with more than 33.5 million unique visitors Located in the United States of America.
One of the primary narratives our team of analysts identified over the last three months (since February 2021) was hesitation fueled by fears of probable vaccination side effects and big pharma benefitting from the epidemic and subsequent vaccine production. Over the course of the year, these narratives accounted for almost 37% of the entire debate around COVID-19 and vaccines examined over a time period (about 10.9 million results, results being content, users, interactions, posts etc. being produced in the digital public sphere).
In the underground markets, there is a lot of vaccine-related illegal activities.
As has been fully established, threat actors are profiting from the pandemic in underground markets. Our threat intelligence teams have discovered actual and fraudulent vaccines, as well as false vaccine certificates, for sale on underground markets like “Liberty Market” and “Televend,” as well as Telegram channels. Earlier this year, the WHO convened a news conference to address this issue, warning that “certain fraudulent goods are also being offered as COVID-19 vaccinations on the internet, notably on the dark web.” WHO went on to explain that it was aware of health ministries and regulatory authorities around the world “Suspicious offers to supply COVID-19 vaccines have been received.”
AstraZeneca sells for an excessive $848.50 on many dark markets, including Steroid King, Cartel Marketplace, Tor Door Marketplace, DarkFox, and Invictus; Pfizer sells for $483.75; Moderna sells for $193.60; and Sputnik sells for an average of $8. German vaccine certificates are selling for an average of $22.35, while COVID-19 antigen testing are selling for an average of $25 flat. The only way to pay is with cryptocurrency.
Looking forward
Fortunately, the majority of narratives are pro-vaccine, yet hesitancy-related and outright anti-vaccine narratives have the potential to spread widely due to the scale and reach of the internet. Anti-vaccine materials and messages are produced with a high frequency of activity by Internet users and communities.

Criminal conduct involving the COVID-19 vaccinations has been targeted by drug companies and law enforcement. “We’ve never seen so much fraud, misinformation, and schemes,” said Steve Francis, head of the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center.

Criminal gangs are profiting from today’s global crises, prospering in an atmosphere where knowledge is freely available and has real-world consequences for public health. Experts have consistently warned about the security concerns posed by the COVID-19 vaccination launch, and we’ve personally witnessed the effects on the digital information ecosystem.

Misinformation and disinformation, as well as explicit vaccine-related crime, are all important issues during a period of worldwide recovery, and the mitigation and management of this “infodemic” is crucial to making much-needed progress in defeating the pandemic.

As professionals in digital risk protection, cyber intelligence, and cybersecurity continue to observe and evaluate cybercrime activities at this uncertain period, it’s critical to raise worldwide awareness about these patterns and assist in decreasing the risks that come with them. This starts with understanding and operationalizing the indicators of abnormal or aberrant activity, which can be learned from dialogues.

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